Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Roads and Your $$$$...

I've talked before about how our Highway Distribution Account (HDA) works and the taxes we pay that go into it, fuel and registration taxes. The Federal fuel taxes also flow into our HDA that we use to take care of our road, air and rail transportation infrastructure.

I used to believe that all taxes went into a big bucket and were doled out by the politicians based on their power and who they needed to get votes from... I've had a lot of tax education from those days and know that's not the case. In Idaho, most taxes are user fees related to the use of the infrastructure involved in that activity.

There are no general fund taxes used for transportation. General funds come from sales tax, individual income tax (these two alone comprise about 90% of state general funds), corporate tax and other misc fees. These General funds are then spread out over Health and Welfare, Education (K-12 and Higher Ed), Corrections, Veterans Services... the list goes on. They are not used for the Department of Fish and Game or the Department of Transportation, these two departments use only what are called "dedicated funds" that come from user fees or taxes and federal funds based upon user fees or taxes.

Because of the reduction in sales taxes and personal income, revenue for the General fund is down, thus funds available for those departments will also be down, their budgets reduced.

The Department of Transportation has experienced inflation costs with building materials over many years without us addressing their revenue stream (fuel taxes and registration fees). We requested a Performance Audit last year that revealed some things that the department and the legislature needed to do in order to ensure we got the biggest bang for the buck in the future.

We do need to make some adjustments in the revenue provided to ITD so that they can better plan maintenance and preservation activities as well as do those activities. They are currently in the mode of fixing "worst first" and not doing preventive maintenance due to the lack of funding available. They do not have a preventive maintenance planning program for our roads that went by the wayside when getting a new financial software system. They need some new software tools to be able to better schedule and perform preventive work instead of being reactive only to work as our infrastructure fails.

Now the big question: How much do they need? There are quite a few numbers being kicked around and how to create that revenue from various forms of increased fees and taxes. Some of those forms take 5 years to implement, some only 1 year. We have heard from a number of lobbyist's, the Governor's office and, of course ITD on the issue, but we've only heard from one... yes just one citizen on the issue in committee. Mr Hart, a precinct chairman in District 19 took the time yesterday to testify before the committee about what he is hearing from the folks in his precinct. That was refreshing and needed.

Of course we get emails and phone calls from citizens saying to invest in the infrastructure and to raise no taxes at all...

I would love to hear from you as would all of the members of the Transportation and Defense Committee in the House. Let us know your thoughts and how you feel we should best proceed. This infrastructure belongs to you, you pay for it's upkeep and for the people that do that upkeep... how would you proceed?

Let us hear from you.